When it comes to desserts and sweet goods, it’s not always about finishing first. It’s about anticipating the next opportunity and investing in automation that wins the race in the long run.

That’s why wholesale bakers have relied on the latest in glazing, icing and finishing systems to make them more adept at producing profitable, premium sweet goods that could only be done by hand in the past, noted Hans Besems, executive product manager, AMF Bakery Systems.

The Unimac XXL Twin by AMF Tromp, an AMF Bakery Systems brand, can deposit duo- or twin-color icings in different ways onto cupcakes with either a side-by-side deposit or with a swirl that twists the two colors into one another. The Unimac XXL is also suitable for single-color depositing.

David Moline, vice president, sales and marketing, Moline Machinery, explained that strings and squiggles require just a two-stage process.

“After the donut is half iced or glazed, you need to allow that first layer to set before you can apply a second layer of string icing,” he said. “Sometimes there’s not much of a space between the settings. A string icer pumps white icing onto a manifold and moves it back and forth to create squiggles.”

For large-scale operations, E.T. Oakes’ String Icer continuously deposits multiple strings in three patterns: sinusoidal, zigzag or straight. Bob Peck, vice president of engineering for the company, said the deposits are made across the conveyor at center-to-center distances while excess icing is recirculated into the accumulator pot.

The system features custom nozzle sizes and a pressurized manifold with adjustable metering valves for each lane on conveyors up to 60-inches wide.

[Related reading: Donut finishing calls for strict temperature control]

For simple to complex patterns, Axis Automation offers the Axis Drizzler with upgraded servo controls for using water-based or fat-based icings, ready-to-use icings, chocolate, caramel and more. The drizzle equipment mimics hand decorating with standard designs that include thick to thin lines, zigzags, curves, figure 8s, single or double loops, and wavy or slanted lines.

To compete with their packaged counterparts, bakeries often promote better-for you sweet goods, which can be tricky to finish, suggested Norm Searle, sales and marketing, GOE/Amherst Stainless Fabrication.

“The system’s components must be compatible with the reduced lubricity of low-fat products,” he said. “Temperature control is becoming prevalent in newer products. Maximum-use time between cleaning of equipment is now specified on some solutions. Cleanability has become more difficult as some of these solutions tend to adhere to even vertical surfaces. As a result, access to these areas for cleaning must not be impeded.”

As a better-for-you alternative to frying, S&S Baking Solutions makes steamed-baked cake donuts on industrial production lines that pump out 22,000 regular-sized rings or 55,000 minis per hour.

Because of their sheer numbers on high-volume lines, cupcakes and smaller sweet goods impact the depositing in terms of size and accuracy.

“You do not get the browning or Malliard effect, so the color of the dough will stay as is after steaming,” said Matthijs Sillevis Smitt, partner, S&S Baking Solutions. “You can play with the color of the dough and the icing. If you have a red dough with white icing, you get a red and white effect immediately. You don’t need two colors on the icing.”

For some operations, responding to a changing marketplace requires a renewed emphasis on fundamentals. Mr. Searle advised bakers to rely on multi-purpose equipment capable of different coatings at variable rates for a variety of products.

In addition to recovering the unused icing to reduce waste, Mr. Searle urged bakers to accurately control the amount applied to comply with labeling standards, reduce sanitation between changeovers, and eliminate give-away or shortages. Keep in mind that proper viscosity requires maintaining proper temperature control and adequate agitation of icings and glazes, especially on high-speed lines.

“As speed increases, the air flow created by the moving parts can influence application accuracy and mist containment,” Mr. Searle said. “This must be considered in the design of application systems. Increased air movement also affects temperature control, which also must be considered when designing a system.”

[Related reading: Keeping finishings smooth as silk]

Topos Mondial offers a sweet goods glazer with an inline, waterfall-type design. Constructed from industrial stainless steel with a sanitary design for easy cleaning, the system has a glaze conveyor and mobile glaze tank.

It features a partitioned glaze overflow trough, a double-walled, water-jacketed, electrically heated glaze tank with thermostatic control and a variable-speed sanitary air diaphragm pump with all pneumatic controls. The removable flood pan under the waterfall allows for top-down-only glazing or top-and-bottom, enrobed-type glazing coverage.

Because of their sheer numbers on high-volume lines, cupcakes and smaller sweet goods impact the depositing in terms of size and accuracy.

“We have to ensure that the manifold metering valves provide excellent balance and control of overall throughput,” Mr. Peck said. “These versatile manifolds are designed to extrude a continuous sheet of product directly onto an oven band/conveyor. When product enters the manifold, internal distribution valves balance flow and viscosity. Product flows through the valves, into a lower ‘recombination’ chamber and exits the manifold at a constant pressure and flow rate.”

The challenge with icing smaller cakes as opposed to sheet cakes involves the requirement for clean cutoffs between the items when they’re not butted up against one another.

“This type of sheet or strip depositing would require a custom icing manifold designed for this purpose,” Mr. Peck said.

Sonia Bal, director of marketing for Unifiller Systems, pointed out that the company offers multiple options for decorating mini desserts, depending on a variety of factors, such as throughput, labor availability and product specifications such as viscosity, batch size, particulates and product temperature.

“There have also been times that customers’ needs for the equipment has driven the need to improve or standardize their processes or recipes, resulting in greater return on investment,” she said.

Unifiller’s RP depositor can finish more than 15 mini-cupcake bites per row with buttercream frosting and sprinkles. Likewise, applying a custom cupcake head to its Pro and Multistation depositors will finish eight cupcakes at a time while its robotic module can finish six, eight or 12 cupcakes in shell packaging.

[Related reading: Automated finishing systems leave products on a high note]

Ms. Bal noted that most single-serve desserts often start as larger sheet cakes that are cut and packaged into smaller sizes.

“With a bar cake, we'd need to know the dimensions of the cake and cake layers to drive our decision regarding spreader nozzles,” Ms. Bal said. “We’d also need to know whether the filling is smooth or has particulates, how the buttercream is handled before it's deposited, what the customers’ current production runs are, and what kind of throughput they want to achieve.”

Unifiller also offers pre-finishing modules for cardboard placement, cake slicing or post-finishing modules for bordering or decorating, such as adding roses, intricate patterns or writing.

“Other fancy mini desserts like petit fours can be easily enrobed with a heated liquid chocolate using Unifiller’s enrober,” Ms. Bal added. “Customers really just want more throughput and the ability to offset the limited availability of staff due to social distancing or other COVID-19 concerns, while ensuring that they can produce products at a lower cost per cake.”

Different shapes also provide a finishing challenge. Long johns, Mr. Moline noted, must be oriented through an icing applicator, especially during half icing, to ensure accuracy and eliminate waste.

“There definitely is a trend for more fully finished baked goods at the wholesale level, and advancements in formulations have made that possible,” he said. “Equipment manufacturers like us are catching up and figuring out how to make it work on a 24/7 basis, which is always a challenge.”

This article is an excerpt from the September 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on finishing, click here.